Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Stranger

"The Stranger" (Orson Welles, 1946) Fairly conventional film from Orson Welles, which means it's a surrealist experiment in style for everyone else. Welles did this one under a time-constraint (which might be why the thing looks lush and complicated at the beginning and a might skimpy towards the end). It's Welles' least favorite of his films and the only film he directed that turned a profit at the time of its release.

Here, Welles is having fun with the idea of a Nazi war criminal hiding in plain sight in a small American college town. He's become a professor—college prof's being allowed certain eccentricities, like a secret allegiance to Der Fuehrer
—and he has wooed and become engaged to a Supreme Court Justice's daughter (Loretta Young with her "deer-in-the-headlights" look). But for Nazi's it's safety in numbers, usually in concentric patterns. So when another war criminal is allowed to escape as bait by a War Crimes Commission, he heads straight for Harper, Connecticutt, picturesque in Fall, and his superior, Franz Kindler (Welles), hiding as Professor Charles Rankin, hoping to start a Fourth Reich. As the professor is a clock-hobbyist, Kindler's precise deceptions begin to ungear. His current project, the old school clock tower with its carouseling angels and demons in pursuit high above the town is his refuge.

He should be keeping his eyes on the ground and the dogged—one might say pugged—pursuit by War Crimes investigator Wilson (Edward G. Robinson, whose good "badness" is used to great effect). Welles and his screenwriters (with an assist by John Huston) have a lot of fun with the global affairs effecting a small town and its eccentric collection of rubes, who prove to be inconveniently adept at things: the busy-body checkers hustler has a good memory and the town gossips are good sources of information, especially when they're in the dark about what secrets they have. Pretty soon, suspicion is sewn and in a small town, word gets around.

Welles manages to make a propaganda film, a detective story, a woman-in-jeopardy tale, with elements of comedy, AND show concentration camp footage all in one storyline (filmed in 1946!), couched in a popular entertainment (for George Schaefer who brought Welles to Hollywood) and knock it out before heading to Rio De Janeiro to film "The Lady from Shanghai."

It's lower-tier pulp Welles, which still puts it far above Hollywood's average.

Shadows of "The Stranger"
Loretta Young's shadow of a doubt about her new husband (Welles) who's just come home.

"Use Gym Equipment at Your Own Risk" says a sign.
Edward G. Robinson is about to get clocked with a ring.

An informant is faceless and anonymous.

A Nazi criminal is on the run, and gets his picture taken for a fake passport.

Welles' shadows turn that same Nazi...into Adolph Hitler?

But don't take my word for it! As "The Stranger" is in the Public Domain,
you can watch it or download it here

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